Less than a year and a half to the start of PyeongChang 2018, the fourth installment of our 2016-17 winter sport primers takes a closer look at those who speed down ice tracks.

For the bobsledders, skeleton racers, and lugers, Olympic qualification will be based on ranking points earned next season, with team sizes becoming finalized in January 2018. But the coming season is hugely important in gaining race experience. In all three sports, athletes must show competitive readiness by racing on a minimum number of different tracks. The window to achieve that eligibility criteria opens this fall.

RELATED: More 2016-17 winter preview

In the sliding sports, familiarity with a venue can have a huge impact on success, arguably more than the other sports on the winter Olympic program. After all, no two tracks are the same and it takes time to learn how to efficiently navigate all of the turns. That’s why one of the most watched events on the calendar this season will be the test events at the Alpensia Sliding Centre when the athletes race down the next Olympic track for the first time. Whoever can find comfort on that track quickly has to be considered a podium contender when the Games begin.

Bobsleigh

Kaillie Humphries and Melissa Lotholz during the opening race of the 2015-16 bobsleigh World Cup season in Altenberg, Germany on November 27, 2015.

Kaillie Humphries and Melissa Lotholz during the opening race of the 2015-16 bobsleigh World Cup season in Altenberg, Germany on November 27, 2015.

Who to Watch

Two-time Olympic champion Kaillie Humphries has herself a new sled – named Jezabelle – but will there be a new brakeman? The woman behind the star pilot last season was Melissa Lotholz and together they enjoyed great success, winning world championship silver and finishing first in the World Cup standings on the basis of four gold, two silver and two bronze in the eight stops. Lotholz isn’t resting on her laurels, setting personal bests as she battles with Cynthia Appiah for the second spot in Canada-1. Both women were in the sled with Humphries when she piloted Canada to first place in the first ever women’s four-man exhibition race at the world championships. National selection races will take place this coming weekend in Whistler with the Canadian championships and team reveal at the end of the month.

The second Canadian pilot in that exhibition race was Alysia Rissling, who spent most of last season on the Europe Cup and North American Cup circuits. She has been joined in the driver’s seat by Christine de Bruin and both are ready to contend for spots on the World Cup circuit. Canada is one of three countries that is qualified to enter three women’s sleds.

Always on the lookout for athletes who could add depth to the program, Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton brought in Rio 2016 Olympians Jen Kish, Phylicia George and Nikkita Holder earlier this fall to give pushing a try. It may not always work out with such high profile recruits, but sometimes it does, the best example being Jesse Lumsden. The former pro football player is back in the bobsled with an eye on his third Olympic Games after a two-year hiatus in the corporate world.

Canada’s top male pilots – Justin Kripps and Chris Spring – both have new sleds as well this season. Coming off up and down seasons (Spring had one two-man World Cup victory last season in Whistler while Kripps had a four-man bronze in Lake Placid and a pair of fourth place finishes in two-man), coach Lyndon Rush still felt they had problems facing in-race adversity. So without telling them, he enrolled the two non-golfers in golf lessons as an experimental approach to dealing with daily pressure. The goal was to learn not to let one mistake snowball into multiple mistakes during a run down the track. We’ll be watching to see how that works out.

Bobsled athletes Chris Spring, right, and Justin Kripps hit shots at the Fairmont driving range in Whistler, B.C., Wednesday, June, 8, 2016. Spring and Kripps have taken up golf this summer as part of their training program, with a goal of sharpening focus and improving mental toughness. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Bobsled athletes Chris Spring, right, and Justin Kripps hit shots at the Fairmont driving range in Whistler, B.C., Wednesday, June, 8, 2016. Spring and Kripps have taken up golf this summer as part of their training program, with a goal of sharpening focus and improving mental toughness. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

What to Watch

IBSF World Cup – December 2-3, 2016 – Whistler, British Columbia

  • The season opener of the eight-stop circuit

IBSF World Championships – February 17-26, 2017 – Sochi, Russia

IBSF World Cup – March 18-19, 2017 – PyeongChang, South Korea

  • The final stop of the eight-stop circuit will double as the Olympic test event at the Alpensia Sliding Centre

Skeleton

Jane Channell of Canada, starts her first run in the women's skeleton World Cup race on Friday, Jan. 8, 2016, in Lake Placid, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

Jane Channell of Canada, starts her first run in the women’s skeleton World Cup race on Friday, Jan. 8, 2016, in Lake Placid, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

Who to Watch

Canada’s skeleton star last season was Jane Channell, who earned two podium placements and only finished outside the top-10 once in eight World Cup races to finish third in the overall standings. She followed up on the great season Elisabeth Vathje had one year prior, when she reached the podium in four of her six World Cup starts and won bronze at the world championships, where Channell placed fourth. Behind them, however, there is also some rising talent to keep an eye on. At 22, Madison Charney has already competed at four world junior championships. Meanwhile 28-year-old Mirela Rahneva, who only started sliding four years ago, is looking to progress from the North American and Europe Cup circuits. She finished last season ranked second overall on the latter with four victories.

Bronze medallist Elisabeth Vathje of Canada, left, celebrates after the women's skeleton race at the Bobsleigh and Skeleton World Championships in Winterberg, Germany, Saturday, March 7, 2015. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)

Bronze medallist Elisabeth Vathje of Canada, left, celebrates after the women’s skeleton race at the Bobsleigh and Skeleton World Championships in Winterberg, Germany, Saturday, March 7, 2015. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)

On the men’s side, the top-ranked Canadian last season was Dave Greszczyszyn, who was eighth overall on the World Cup. But there has also been great promise shown by Barrett Martineau. Ranked one spot behind Greszczyszyn last season, he won bronze at the 2012 world junior championships, just two years after he picked up the sport. Martineau had been a ski jumper who served as a forerunner at Vancouver 2010 where a chance encounter with Olympic champion Jon Montgomery in Whistler led to him pursuing his Olympic dream in skeleton. Evan Neufeldt, who has been splitting time between the World Cup and Intercontinental Cup, is also looking strong.

Dave Greszczyszyn of Canada speeds down the track during his first run of the men's Skeleton World Cup race in Koenigssee, southern Germany, Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Kerstin Joensson)

Dave Greszczyszyn of Canada speeds down the track during his first run of the men’s Skeleton World Cup race in Koenigssee, southern Germany, Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Kerstin Joensson)

All of these athletes are in the midst of national selection races with a team announcement coming towards the end of October. Canada is qualified to enter three sliders of each gender in World Cup races.

What to Watch

IBSF World Cup – December 2-3, 2016 – Whistler, British Columbia

  • The season opener of the eight-stop circuit

IBSF World Championships – February 24-26, 2017 – Sochi, Russia

IBSF World Cup – March 17, 2017 – PyeongChang, South Korea

  • The final stop of the eight-stop circuit will double as the Olympic test event at the Alpensia Sliding Centre

Luge

Alex Gough competes in the women's singles at at the 2016 FIL World Luge Championships on January 30, 2016.

Alex Gough competes in the women’s singles at at the 2016 FIL World Luge Championships on January 30, 2016.

Who to Watch

This year’s luge team is expected to include many familiar faces, including three-time Olympians Alex Gough and Sam Edney. Gough had a reduced schedule last season to attend school while Edney needed to give his mind and body a break. In Edney’s absence, Mitchel Malyk stepped up to be the top Canadian man and helped Canada win team relay bronze at the world championships. Kimberley McRae, who had been a most impressive fifth in her Olympic debut in Sochi, was the top-ranked Canadian woman on last year’s World Cup.

But there will also be a focus on NextGen athletes, giving them invaluable World Cup experience while they’re young in the hopes of easing the transition down the line. It’s a strategy that worked with Gough, who went on to win two world championship medals in singles, as well as Tristan Walker and Justin Snith, who became the first Canadian doubles tandem to stand on a World Cup podium.

Canadians Justin Snith, Alex Gough, Tristan Walker and Mitchel Malyk celebrate team relay bronze at FIL World Championships on January 31, 2016.

Canadians Justin Snith, Alex Gough, Tristan Walker and Mitchel Malyk celebrate team relay bronze at FIL World Championships on January 31, 2016.

Gough, McRae, Malyk, Walker and Snith have all been pre-selected for this year’s World Cup team, based on their past international performances. Meanwhile there will be a delayed start to the season for Sochi 2014 Olympian Arianne Jones, who is dealing with injury.

One of the upstarts looking to fill that void is Brooke Apshkrum, who won gold at the 2016 Winter Youth Olympic Games. A bronze medallist from those Games, Reid Watt, is looking to challenge Edney for the second men’s spot on the World Cup team. National selection races are currently ongoing.

Brooke Apshkrum CAN poses for a photo after winning the Luge Women's Singles competition at Lillehammer Olympic Sliding Centre during the Winter Youth Olympic Games, Lillehammer, Norway, 15 February 2016. Photo: Jon Buckle for YIS/IOC Handout image supplied by YIS/IOC

Brooke Apshkrum CAN poses for a photo after winning the Luge Women’s Singles competition at Lillehammer Olympic Sliding Centre during the Winter Youth Olympic Games, Lillehammer, Norway, 15 February 2016. Photo: Jon Buckle, Handout image supplied by YIS/IOC

What to Watch

FIL World Cup – December 9-10, 2016 – Whistler, British Columbia

  • The third of nine stops on the circuit

FIL World Championships – January 27-29, 2017 – Igls, Austria

FIL World Cup – February 17-19, 2017 – PyeongChang, South Korea

  • The eighth of nine stops on the circuit will double as the Olympic test event at the Alpensia Sliding Centre

RELATED: More 2016-17 winter preview